He has recently written a book called the Rise of the Frontline Worker, so we’ll discuss that a bit as well.
Of course, the pandemic has really uncovered just how essential frontline workers are to keep our society going, our essential workforce. It has also exposed some of the poor conditions and issues within communication and onboarding, for example.
We’ll break all this down and more.
Listening time: 25 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Cris on from Beekeeper, and we’re gonna be talking about the digital transformation and the reemergence of the frontline workforce. Let’s jump into it, Cris, if you don’t mind, give us a little background or introduce yourself and Beekeeper.
Yes, for sure. Thank you very much for the invitation, William, and for having me here on the podcast. My name is Cris Grossman. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Beekeeper, the mobile cloud platform for frontline workers. We specifically focus on this forgotten segment of the workforce that has been left behind when it comes to digitalization technology, and as of today still works mostly with pen and paper.
And so recently, you wrote a book and it’s the rise of the frontline worker, I want to ask you a little bit about A, writing the book, why you decided to write the book, but also some of the factors that kind of led to what you believe are the rise?
Yes, for sure. So in terms of why we wrote it, it’s really, I would say a tribute and a summary of the last decade of working and devoting our efforts to bring beautiful and simple technology to the frontline. And all the learnings that we have had in terms of what are the most common pitfalls, what are the most common hurdles when it really comes to digitalization that we have encountered over the last decade.
And in terms of why the rise for what factors really brought up this rise, I think the main, like the pandemic that we have experienced over the last 12, 14, 15 months. And that has made two things. One of them is increased awareness of how important the frontline workers are for our overall society. They’re really this fabric that keeps it going while everything else just stops, the so-called essential workers.
And the other big point has been the topic of I would say in having them work under very rudimentary and precarious conditions. Yeah.
And the pandemic has exacerbated some of this right? So it’s kind of highlighted things that were already there. cracks that were already in the foundation of the frontline. So specifically, what do you see is has it impacted?
You know, industries, in particular, has the pandemic kind of crossed over and kind of really highlighted some of those cracks for you?
Yes, so I think there are different ways, one of the impacts that we have seen across different industries has been a massive acceleration in terms of putting more pressure on the system. These have been industries like logistics, essential retail food manufacturing, that simply had to continue to work during the pandemic, and under Even more pressure and higher demands.
So this exposed many of the weaknesses of working with pen and paper, having rudimentary onboarding processes, having rudimentary communication systems, like a bulletin board, paper, pen and paper, and so on. So I think this has been one of the big impacts that we have seen. The other one is more on the industries that were impacted the other way around, that basically slowed down that went into hibernation.
You can think of travel, airports, hotels, and restaurants, everybody that had to go through big furloughs. There, I would say the big challenge was, how do I stay in touch with my team? How do I keep up the morale? How do I even let them know when it’s time to come back, if I don’t even have an email address that I can write them to? So that was the other big category of impact that we saw during this pandemic.
It’s interesting because, you know, we were talking you know, in a way we’re talking about how frontline has distinct needs from other types of industries or other types of workers there are very distinct needs and how can technology you know, help and you know, and enable those distinct needs. You went through a couple of them.
But let’s explore a couple of others because you know, these, you mentioned, probably five different industries, just just in that just that last question, which I think is fascinating. It’s all the industries. Not all. But a lot of the industries that were impacted, you know, the food, food industry, restaurant industry, hospitality, retail, and retail was impacted in a different way.
You know, in some ways, it was harder to go to the store, yet, all of a sudden, now you’ve got another business model of delivery that then pops up. So Amazon, you know, a, you know, a retailer of sorts, their business went through the roof, whereas some other retailers, you know, their businesses were really, really severely impacted because people couldn’t go to the store, and they have a delivery mechanism.
So let’s, if you don’t mind, let’s say, Let’s peel the onion of some of those distinct needs that y’all you’ve seen, both pre and during the pandemic and, and how technology can kind of help them with some of those distinct needs.
Yes, for sure. Excellent point. Because I think the way we think about it, and what we’ve learned over this time is that the needs are so distinct and the rules of the game, when bringing technology to the frontline, as opposed to bringing technology, for example, their counterparts in an office in a headquarter desktop workers, we think about it as it’s two different ballgames.
So it’s playing basketball and playing baseball, in the sense that there are very different rules and very different needs. So for example, when you think about the front line, they’ve never really been exposed to having to work very closely and intensely with technology during their job. So most of it has to do with pen and paper, some of them have to work with really old interfaces from ERP systems to pull in some data that they actually hate.
But mostly, they don’t have access to most of the tools that are around, right, they don’t even have a digital identity. So that’s where the whole thing starts. It’s not like you can set up a single sign on and have everybody joined because they don’t have email addresses. In most cases.
Another big factor is the type of relationship between employee and employer, right, what we find is that I would say there’s a bit of a higher level of mistrust, and the more transactional type of relationship in the sense that I come, I do my job, and then I leave, and I don’t care so much about the rest as long as I can do my job and get my paycheck at the end of the month. Right.
And this is how it is historically, I think it has developed in this way, we find there are more and more a Yeah, needs to engage with them to bring them along when it comes to the strategy when it comes to the vision and the purpose of the company. So this type of relationship, certainly starting, I would say on the wrong foot, Even though there’s a lot of appetite to turn it around, so to speak, right.
And then last but not least, the big factor that plays here are labor laws, Union dynamics, and other factors that you simply don’t have one bringing technology to, for example, desktop workers, right. So considering all of these things is, I would say, a delicate field to navigate that requires just an I would say an expert that can help you guide the deployment of technology onto this completely different game set.
Only because you know you’ve unpacked some that I’ve even forgotten from 100 years ago, when I worked in retail that it very much was an us versus, you know, employee versus management or employee versus ownership type of mentality. But it also crazily enough it was also there was a team dynamic that was really interesting. Like you felt like you were a part of a team. And again, you might have had issues with management or ownership, but you’re still a part of a team.
What have you seen with as it relates to teams, and especially, we’re dealing with the topic of digital transformation, which is good, especially for these industries. It’s actually, really, really important to talk about that. But I know you’re interacting, you know, with a lot of clients and helping them.
You’re also kind of running into some of them. There are the teams people feel like they’re part of teams, how do you leverage that or what do you see as some of the challenges of teams more effectively working together?
Yes, totally. And I think you touched on a very important dynamic also hear that, as you say the frontline worker tends to be and likes to be very, very close to their most immediate team. They have a big sense of community, of togetherness with them. While the further you go away from that nucleus, the less interest there is from the frontline worker to know a lot about what’s going on. Right.
So in terms of your question of what challenges do they face when it comes to connecting with our frontline teams? I think one of the big challenges is, as I mentioned, this definitely needs to lead to an organization, simply having a big, big gap and disconnect when it comes to these frontline teams, right? There are information cascades that need to go on in one direction from the headquarter to the frontline team. And the way back, in order for them to know what’s going on, I think there tends to be also a siloed view, and there’s a need to get more of a holistic approach.
So we find a lot of points solutions or attempts to solve these problems. And these inefficiencies in, I would say, the best way at hand, which can be using some consumer apps, or using texting technology simply to get the information across, right, which just open up other types of issues from shadow IT, to non-compliance to, to this type of an I’ll say more security risks.
Alright, let’s so digital transfers, and that’s a great answer. But again, digital transformation being our backdrop to these interesting to these industries, and these types of workers. What are the barriers to adoption?
Like, how, how do you believe and how do you guide HR, and Even business leaders, you know, to overcome any of the barriers or setbacks or impediments or whatever that’s there to, to, to overcome those things so that they can fully digitize and transform their business?
Yes, totally. So you mentioned HR departments, management teams, will full operation teams, we see this type of digital transformation, really, as a team sport, and that’s one of the I would say biggest barriers, is to try to tackle it alone, because it would lead to, again, some sort of siloed approach. A typical case would be internal communications wanting to replace the intranet because the intranet has always been intranets.
And there’s not much a room there to, to engage to really get the people together. But one idea can be, why don’t we just create a mobile version of it and try to push it out so that we can put out some content, right. And what this creates is, I would say, a one-way street and the siloed type of solution that for content might work, and it might get 10, like text content across, but it already blocks, other types of applications. Another type of use cases that are needed from other team players and digital transformation, because the next thing will be, well. If HR needs, for example, to have a workforce management system or a Payslip being sent to the frontline workers, why don’t we also push an app out there for them?
And their operations needs the same to have their processes, standard operating procedures that meditationes doing the same way, then you start pushing more and more in technology to the front end. And I think if there’s one big learning over these 10 years is that complexity is a killer when it comes to something technology and digital transformation.
So that’s why it’s important to really bring together these different functions have one holistic approach, one can step that’s not always easy, step by step, it doesn’t have to be a multi-year super complex process. But it’s important to have an orchestrated approach when it comes to bringing technology to the frontline. So that’s why HR crucial role management, Even more so and the C level totally needs to be behind so that the adoption is really guaranteed from an organizational perspective.
And then the other big side is when you put yourself in the shoes of the frontline worker, and really taking them by the hand and explaining to them, what is the value for them? Why is this actually great also for them, and kind of like the breach and overcome this mistrust that can initially be there. But what we see over and over is that frontline workers are hungry for this type of change. They crave it.
And if one finds the right partner to actually do these types of changes, then they’re the impact on the whole organization and on the lives of the frontline workers can be incredible.
Love that, a great answer. Now. Now let’s get into kind of the next layer of this because you’re already giving people great advice. So I want to go further into that because, you know, digital, digital transformation, and organizational change is you’re doing it for a reason, right? I mean, that’s the whole view. The purpose is to actually you’re not just doing it for giggles, you’re doing it for a reason. And some of those are, you know, to improve efficiency, safety and engagement.
So, you know, I know you run into people that always say naysayers, but maybe people that are a bit reluctant for this change, and it could be, you know, at the top, or it could be somewhere in the middle, it doesn’t really matter. Or maybe Even the frontline workers themselves are a little reluctant to change. How do you get them over that? Because I mean, efficiency, it’s great. It’s such a great, kind of a pillar of discussion, safety, I mean, there’s really no counterargument to having a safety discussion. And, and, and, again, engagement, you’re doing this to make sure that that you have a better engagement with your employees. Hopefully, you retain talent as well.
But when you deal with people that are reluctant, you know, in some way, shape, or form and whether or not they voice it explicitly or implicitly through their actions, how do you, Cris? How do you bring them over to your side? How do you know cuz I know you, I know you deal with people that are reluctant? And I know you run into this, how do you make the case because again, efficiency, you know, safety and engagement, those are three great arguments that I know you can easily make. But also, I want to dig into just how you when you deal with reluctance, how you kind of help them and help them get over that hump.
Totally, totally. And I mean, as you correctly said, change is not a cup of tea for everybody. And it’s very natural to have always some sort of concern, some sort of fear of change, and so on. So the way we approach it is always one of our company values is be open, and we’d like to be open and put those types of difficult topics and concerns on the table, address them. For many of them, we will have great answers for some of them, we might not, and we will figure it out together.
But I think it’s an understanding of where that concern is coming from. And what we find is, it’s really important for this type of initiative and digital transformation to tie it to some business value, and business goals. And everybody can get a more easily around business goals and how to facilitate getting to those business goals, rather than just the fun of getting a new tool or a new theme on top of what we’re already having to do. Right. So really getting back to how is this going to make my business achieve the business the goals that I have, in a faster, easier way? Right. So I think that that is one critical point.
And the other one is in understanding that sometimes people need to need a little bit of time to like get over that by themselves. And through education through great examples of a, for example, how older customers in the same industry have done it, or their peers in the same function have done it the type of return on investment that they have seen. And the type of impact that these technologies can have to make it as tangible as possible. And that’s I would say the best way how we try to get the naysayers on board. Right?
I love that great answer, by the way. So let me ask something really, really kind of nuanced and specific. It’s around COVID. And it’s the communication. So one of the things we got forced into March 13 of last year in the states is okay, everybody’s working from home. Everybody go home, and oh, by the way, good luck. And some companies thrived.
You know, because you already had some communication platforms are already operating on Slack or, you know, Monday and Zoom and all these other things. So they already kind of okay, yeah, well, you know, business moved on. But as we’re talking about transformation and the frontline, what have you seen in terms of how they’ve grown and how they’ve dealt with COVID-related communications?
And also something again, more nuanced is, you know, vaccine, kind of, you know, initiatives, if you will, how they’ve, how they’ve dealt with that as well. Okay, again, very nuanced, and very, very much, frontline. So what have you seen so far with both of those?
Yes, excellent question. And I think you touched on a topic that also highlights the difference between the desktop counterparts, right, like we all go work from home, we have Zoom. We have our laptops, we can just continue working. It’s all in the cloud. So not a problem, right? But with frontline workers, it’s different.
The work needs to happen on-site, or it doesn’t happen, I do need to drive a truck, you need to fill up a shelf, you need to clean up a room. And that by definition needs to happen physically. So the type of communication cases that we have seen during the pandemic went very much from just keeping everybody, I would say, on the same page, I would say, during the pandemic, with so much uncertainty of things changing from week to week, and so on in these uncertain times, communication is probably one of the best deals against it.
So that leaders are really communicating really out there and in front of their frontline workers. And alone, creating that digital channel to send information in a quick, fast way on how are we doing? How is the business progressing on this? What are the leaders thinking about it? What are the new measures that we’re adopting, and so on, that have helped a loan navigate the pandemic in a much better way than not having it?
So we have customers from food manufacturing plants that had COVID outbreaks and had to send everybody home for a couple of weeks and completely would have lost contact with them if it wasn’t for technologies, like Beekeeper that can create that digital channel, and at all be able to have some sort of communication, right, and that is only communicating what is going on. But that’s only the start because also the type of communication cases we have seen, it’s around education and awareness campaigns that can cover multiple languages.
For the frontline workers by nature, one of the big particularities is that it’s a very rich and diverse workforce where you will find at least 5, 6, 7 main languages that you need somehow to cover to make sure that the information is getting across well. So technology can be super helpful here to make sure that that happens, right. Then from there, it goes in that direction also of requesting protective equipment, making pre-shift symptom checks, having FAQ chatbots answering the most asked questions around COVID guidelines, COVID questions, and so on. So technology can really ease and bridge this gap of communication in such a critical moment like a pandemic.
I love it. Great, great answer. Again, just a couple more things. Final advice. You know, again, for leaders that are dealing with digital transformation with the frontline, it’s what would you part, if you could if you only had one or two things that you could say to leaders, what would you tell them if they’re contemplating and this is the highest level of the board C suite, they’re really contemplating this, this shift of the business model of really kind of moving from, you know, let’s say, paper-based to digital, just make it easy. What are those, maybe one or two things you do to really, really help them?
I would say the number one thing is to realize that investments in frontline technology are directly creating a competitive advantage for your business. I think that’s the number one thing, especially at the C suite level board level. One thing to keep in mind is this is an investment in a strategic competitive advantage for your business, that will not only help you navigate out of this pandemic but for sure, come out even stronger and faster. So that I would say that that’s the first one.
The second one is to not hesitate to go paperless. I think if there is a moment to go paperless, this is the time to do it. So so go for it. And one can do it in a sequential manner. But there’s so much paper around from checklists, work instructions, work orders, standard operating procedures, all of those things that hold businesses back is where we see the big potential for creating a good and strong competitive advantage for the future.
Well, we’ve only scratched the surface of service or just peeled a couple of layers of the onion. We’re gonna have to dig into this a little deeper the next time, Cris, again, great topic and digital transformation in the reemergence of the frontline workforce. Two last things. Beekeeper, the URL for you is?
And if folks want to look up your book, where can they find that?
They can find it directly on Amazon, they say available as a paperback or as a Kindle version. If you want a free copy from me, you can also write me. My email address is [email protected]. Send me an email and I’ll send you a free copy.
See, that’s what you get. There you go. That’s the reason. That’s the reason we have the podcast. Cris, thank you so much. I know. I know you’re busy. I appreciate your time and your wisdom. This is just a wonderful topic. Just thank you so much.
Likewise, thank you so much, William for this.
And thanks to everybody for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.